Bible Study

Before you can study the Bible you have to decide how you're going to do it and what you're looking for. Most biblical scholars only end up reinforcing what they already believe by "discovering" that the Old Testament says exactly what they expected it to say. The results of your study will change depending upon the context under which it is examined. Here are examples of various scriptural contexts along with the pitfalls.

Modern Context - This can be stated simply as looking for a modern message in the works under study. It allows us to superimpose our modern knowledge and beliefs (and expectations) on works that are thousands of years old. Every book of the Old Testament is assumed to be written by a human author or authors between 2 and 3 thousand years ago. If we assume they lived in our modern world we will be assured of missing the points they sought to make.

Systematic Theological Context - This involves interpreting each passage using a particular framework either personal or from a group theology. This also ignores what the ancient author intended in the work and virtually guarantees that we will find that the OT tells us exactly what we want it to. In other words we will not be studying the bible, rather we will be using the bible to justify what we want the scriptures to say.

Traditional Context - Like the Systematic Context, this involves interpreting the scriptures using a traditional framework that has been established and socialized over time. Like using the methodology of the Roman Catholic church to pronounce formal interpretations of the scriptures. This method not only has the pitfalls of the Systematic Context but also suffers from political pressures to make sure that interpretations jibe with official policy.

Canonical Context - This examines how the rest of the canon (holy scriptures) view a particular passage. If we were to use this context we would end up viewing the old testament as a book of problems and the new testament as a book of answers. For instance 2nd Isaiah mentions a son of Israel. When this passage is referenced in Matthew it appears that the person being referred to is Jesus but in the original text it is obvious the author meant the people of Israel.

Authorial Context - What did the author mean when they wrote the piece? This can be very difficult to determine because we have to figure out what a person living in a completely foreign world was thinking and feeling when they wrote a particular story. However, it is the only way to gain any real insight into these ancient works.


The next issue is canonization or the process by which a group decides that one text is holy and another is simple history. The OT consists of the Pentateuch or Torah which are 5 books attributed to Moses that contain "the law" as understood by the ancient Hebrews, the Prophets which are the stories of various religious and military leaders, and the Writings which include Wisdom Literature like Proverbs and Job usually attributed to Solomon and a few other odds and ends.

Most of these books are written before 300 BCE and the Greek occupation of Palestine. Other books where written after the Greeks and are included in a Greek version of the OT written in Alexandria and called the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) and includes the book of the Maccabes. These extra books are included in the Catholic version of the OT and are called the Apocrypha.

There are books that could have been included in the New Testament but where left out for reasons which no one wrote down. Like the Gospel by St. Thomas which contains many stories of Jesus as a youth (most probably complete fabrications) was left out of the NT during its third century construction.

We could simply define certain faiths by their canon. If we did it might look like this...

OT only = post exilic Hebrew

OT + Talmud = modern conservative Jew

OT + Apocrypha + NT = Catholic

OT + NT = Protestant Christian

OT + NT + Koran = Moslem

OT + NT + Book of Mormon = Later Day Saint

The one thing that should be noticed here is that all of these mentioned use the OT and more specifically the Pentateuch as their foundation document. The more we can figure out about it the more we know about all these faiths.

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This page was created by Paul Kahle 8-July-1998

This page was last updated on 13-Jan-2001